Introducing

Achia Floyd

Join us in welcoming Achia Floyd to ArtsEngaged. Here she introduces herself in her own words:

I believe in the transformative power of the arts, and I truly believe Community Engagement is a respectful way to push arts and cultural organizations toward a sustainable future. Accordingly, I jumped at the chance to promote Community Engagement for ArtsEngaged.

Who am I?

My name is Achia Floyd, and I have been a classical musician since 3 years of age. I hold a BM and MM degree in flute performance, as well as a MA degree in Arts Administration. Shortly after exiting graduate school, I began The Willow Company, an Arts Consulting agency focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as Social Media marketing.

What do I do for ArtsEngaged?

I lead Marketing and Sales for ArtsEngaged, which means I am the person behind the scenes on Social Media, the Newsletter, and sales efforts. On that note, be sure to open the next AE Newsletter, and join the new Community Engagement Network group on Facebook? https://www.facebook.com/groups/668362663522307/

My mission is to spread the word about the greatness of Community-focused Engagement. Do you have a success story to share, have general news to share, or want to be featured in an Arts Engaged Newsletter? Want to learn more about Community Engagement Training? Need Community Engagement Resources? Email info@artsengaged.com.

I hope we can work together to build community, not audiences.

Achia Floyd

Needs of the Field

Last time (The State of Engagement) I shared some thoughts about the status of community engagement in the nonprofit arts industry. Today I want to offer a few observations about the needs of our field with respect to community engagement. Before I begin I want to be clear that this does not purport to be an exhaustive list but simply some of the things that are most on my mind right now.

  • Understanding/Awareness
    There is a great need for more universal understanding of basic concepts in the means by which arts organizations and the public connect; and by universal, I mean all of our internal stakeholders: artistic staff, administrative staff, and board members. I have written extensively on the need to better understand and differentiate among audience development, audience engagement, and community engagement. The unfortunate conflating of the three creates confusion and inhibits success in any one of them. With respect to community engagement there is little awareness of its potential, principles, and practice. Without significant growth in this area, real change will be extremely limited.
  • Advocacy for Community Engagement
    While it might be hoped that simple understanding and awareness would generate change, the inertial forces in our industry make that unlikely. So, there needs to be a concerted effort to press arts organizations to deeper commitments to their communities. We need to utilize both carrots and sticks–the carrot of broadly perceived indispensability (wouldn’t that be cool!) and the stick of impending obsolescence.
  • Trained Practitioners
    The skills necessary for successful work in community engagement have not been part of the training or experience of most in our field. Opportunities for training, sharing, and mentoring need to expanded.
  • Mission-level Organizational Commitment
    As awareness and understanding lead to support for community engagement, organizations need to make their commitment to it a mission-level priority, not an add-on or afterthought. Otherwise, communities will see the limited efforts for what they are–window dressing. This need not be a commitment that excludes an arts mission but is added in parallel to it or, better, as a more accurate understanding of what an arts mission actually should be: connecting people with art.
  • Organizational Transformation
    Once the commitment is made, the hard work of transforming the organization from an artcentric to a community-oriented focus must take place. Initially, simple changes in our habits of mind will go a long way in supporting the process. Eventually, though,if an organization is not doing anything differently as a result of its engagement efforts, it’s not focused on the community.

I said at the beginning of my last post that these musings were the result of trying to assess the future of this blog and of ArtsEngaged. I’m clear that there is still much work that needs to be done. We will continue to support all of the points above. But this work must grow. To that end we are creating a network of community engagement practitioners and advocates. For now, it lives as a Facebook group: Become Indispensable. If this work is meaningful to you, join us and invite colleagues to participate as well. (If you are Facebook averse–and we understand that–emails us at CEN@artsengaged.com and we’ll be sure to include you in the festivities.) In addition, ArtsEngaged continues to offer Community Engagement Training to individuals and groups.

One last word. With respect to organizational transformation, I have been pleased to read of the work of Of/By/For All, a movement to assist organizations that have made a substantive commitment to their communities. While it may not be for all organizations–the level of community focus they advocate may be a bit much for some arts organizations, at least at first–it does appear to be a great resource for implementing effective community engagement work.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by archerwl

The State of Engagement

As I consider the future of ArtsEngaged and of my own role in the community engagement arena I am, of necessity, thinking about the status of community engagement in the nonprofit arts industry. If most (or even many) arts organizations were on a clear path to substantive community engagement there would be no need for training in and advocacy for community engagement. I’d be really (really, really) happy to ride off into the sunset. But from my direct observation and from the reports of many in the field (usually from younger people in junior level arts organization positions) we’re not there yet. For too many arts organizations, their level of self-focus apparently makes understanding that effective community engagement is something substantially different from traditional sales/marketing/fundraising/education approaches nearly impossible.

To be clear, effective community engagement is the building of mutually beneficial relationships with new populations out of which grows arts programming that addresses the interests of those populations. This demands humility about how little we know about communities with which we have no relationship, respectful listening to learn, and a willingness to view and employ our art as a means of making lives better–better in ways understood by those communities, not in ways that we paternalistically assume. And it must be relationships with new populations because our reach is simply not great enough to support our work as we look to the future.

Across the field there are certainly many areas of good news. There are the arts organizations that practice effective engagement out of simply necessity. These are rural, neighborhood, and, sometimes, culturally specific organizations whose base population is small enough that they have to (and can) know their members fairly well. There are also the organizations whose mission is some form of social justice work utilizing the arts. Justice cannot be pursued without understanding the nature of injustice and its impact on individuals. Conversations have to happen.

Even among medium-size and large arts organizations with arts missions rooted in the European aristocratic tradition there are those that have made substantial, organization-wide mission-based commitments to their communities (Milwaukee Repertory Theater for one); others with significant programming or project-based commitments to their communities (Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco is but one); and still others that have hired a C-suite level (CEO, COO, CFO, etc.) officer to oversee relationship building processes and the resultant programming initiatives and have given them the mandate and resources to be successful. I believe the Queens Museum of Art falls in this category.

Unfortunately, there are many (I would unscientifically call it a vast majority) that have no interest in engagement, pay it lip service, or call things that they are doing “engagement” when they clearly do not use the means or serve the necessary ends (expanding reach) of effective engagement. The common thread among these is a prime or exclusive focus on benefits to the arts organization and a level of artcentricity (seeing the art, rather than the interaction between people and that art, as primary) that gets in the way building relationships. A few examples of what I mean are given below. This is by no means an exhaustive listing.

Calling these things engagement does nothing to address the systemic challenge we face: the need to be seen as valuable by vastly larger percentages of the population. If, like me, you believe that effective engagement is critical to the future of the arts in our country, you understand that there is much, much more that needs to be done.

Next time, some thoughts on things to be done.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by archerwl

Targets and Timeframes

I have recently found myself concerned with issues related to measuring community engagement, particularly its benefits to arts organizations. (Two-Phase Engagement; Reach and Frequency) There is a tendency among some to know that community engagement is a good thing and, therefore, to resist attempts to measure it’s impact. If I’m honest, I may sometimes find myself in that group. There are others who assume that community engagement is at best “nice” and are dismissive of its potential to yield practical benefits for the organization.

To be sustainable, community engagement must benefit the arts organization in tangible ways. To be supported institutionally, the path to ticket sales (via increased reach), funding (via money from donors, corporations, and foundations who will never support the arts status quo), and public policy (via broad-based public enthusiasm for the impact of the arts on people’s lives) must be articulated and tracked.

A principal difficulty in this is that in order to accomplish these gains we must do work in marketing, funding, and advocacy that we’ve almost never done before. That is, we must lay groundwork among people who are not already pre-disposed to value the arts. (If you believe that a viable future for arts organizations exists without reaching new communities and new funders you may stop reading now.)

As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, immediate improvements in sales, funding, and public policy are impossible when you are approaching new people who are either apathetic about or hostile to the arts. First, we must build trust and, while doing so, measure indicators of improving relationships–for example, willingness to meet, willingness to introduce others, and (eventually) willingness to work together. Clearly, that is at least a one- or two-year project. Only after the foundation is built can we begin to set goals for the more traditional measures of institutional benefit.

Don’t have the resources to devote to this? What’s your alternative? Let’s reconvene in forty years and see who is still in business.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by kartfamily

ICYMI: Announcing

This was posted in July. Summer is a time when many of us are slightly less focused on things professional, so, in case you missed it, here is a repeat:

It’s official. As predicted in Changes, ArtsEngaged has a new and, to my eyes, snazzy website. The snazziness is entirely due to the efforts of our Marketing and Sales specialist, Achia Floyd. Many, many thanks Achia!

While new is always (well, often) fun, what is most important to me about this website upgrade is the opportunity to share many more resources with the community engagement field. The Engagement Essentials page is packed with links to information and downloadable materials that were not available before. Here are some of the newly available resources:

In addition, the following, most (but not all) of which have been available before, are accessible from a single location, again on the Engagement Essentials page.

Another advantage of the new format is that we will be able to continue adding resources as they are developed. It is our hope to be adding things on a regular basis. We hope you take advantage of what we have to offer and that this proves to be a valuable addition in support of community engagement.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by usarmyband